Two separate health crises are colliding.
For months, WGN has covered the opioid epidemic sweeping the country. WGN has also detailed stories of sex trafficking in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Now there is a revelation: the opioid epidemic is injecting life into the sex trafficking trade and destroying the lives of its victims.
One survivor recently spoke with WGN’s Medical Watch team.
“My story isn’t about intimidation, it’s about manipulation,” she said. “Traffickers aren’t just strange men. I was trafficked by my mom. I was very codependent with my mother, so anything she wanted I made it happen. It didn’t matter if there was pain, if there was rape, if there was hunger – anything. It didn’t matter as long as she was happy.”
What made her mother happy was crack cocaine.
“If you want to feel pretty, go get me drugs. If you want to feel like I love you, go get me drugs, then I’ll love you,” she told WGN.
With no money to buy her mother’s love, she sold her body. It was her mother's idea.
“Anyone can be a trafficker and anyone can be a victim. It happening right here. It’s happening right in our face,” she said.
She carried her secrets to school with her along with two phones.
“One’s a trick phone, one’s a normal phone. If, all of a sudden, this person is dressing better or always has their nails done or eyelash extensions or weight loss … because it’s usually a lot of self-esteem issues and a lot of drugs,” she said. “(Those forced into sex trafficking are) just being really secretive. You’re forced to have sex with men and it becomes work. It’s a job. I have to make money to survive.”
Survival meant providing drugs for her entire family including herself and her little brother.
“My brother was 12, and he became addicted to crack cocaine just so my mom would be happy,” she said. “I think my addiction came from the numbing. With numbing you can’t control what you numb. So instead of just numbing the pain and the hurt and the anger, you numb joy, you numb recovery, you numb emotions. I didn’t really like to do it, but it was a really good escape, a really good escape.”
Her ultimate escape, after months of being trafficked, came with the help of law enforcement.
“There was a sting operation before I even started and I ended up being caught in a sting,” she said. “And I was really lucky. And I thought we were busted, and it was the worst thing ever, but I was saved that day.”
She’s now at a safe house. Her mother is in jail and not allowed contact with her teen daughter.
“I had really bad body image. My mother would call me every name in the book and I saw a disgusting human being when I looked at myself in the mirror,” she said. “And it took a long time for me to start loving myself. My friends describe me as ‘a ball of light’ and I thought I was a dark cloud. I thought I was a burden. My mother made me think I was a burden. And now I wake up and say, ‘Oh! Here’s another chance and I don’t have to live the way I used to live.’ Joy definitely comes a lot easier now because I don’t numb and I go through the motions of feelings. I have so much hope and I think that’s the biggest thing that’s come out of my recovery, is hope.”
She was saved by law enforcement.
Tuesday on the WGN News at Nine, Dina Bair will show you local efforts to curb demand for commercial sex, and how a shift in philosophy to rescue not incarcerate victims of sex trafficking is changing the path for survivors.
Selah Freedom: www.selahfreedom.com
Human trafficking hotline: 888.373.7888
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